This blog is devoted to highlighting restaurants of Memphis, Tennessee.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Hattie B's Hot Chicken

Hot Mess!

During my latest visit to Nashville, I got around to eating some of the city's authentic cuisine. I want to stress the word "authentic" because my last experience fell short of that. A year and a half ago, I attended my first beer and food pairing at Downtown Memphis' Flying Saucer that Yazoo Brewery hosted. In an effort to promote its hometown, the host served a sample of Nashville's famous "hot chicken." It made a fair impression, for the breading was overcooked and not nearly as spicy as West Tennessee's Gus's (it's not just a Memphis thing). To be fair, the low spiciness could have been intentional in order to broadly appeal to the guests. Of course, that makes as much sense as going to a nudie bar to see a person strip to only his/her undies. My feeling is if you're promoting something representative of your city and/or culture to others, don't do it half-ass. I'm sure most would have appreciated the effort as Memphis is known for its spicy foods. Despite the lackluster chicken, I enjoyed the overall experience and hope to do it again. In the meantime, I yearned for a true "hot chicken" experience, something that eventually came to fruition.
If my memory of the food/beer pairing session is correct, I believe the host told the story behind the poultry staple. In short, it was the result of a scorned woman getting back at her man (Thornton Prince, the original owner of Prince's Hot Chicken Shack) by cooking him some extra spicy fried chicken. Instead of becoming angry, he liked it and made it for others, eventually starting a restaurant that exists today. That's a crazy story with a happy ending of sorts, and far better than poisoning or the girlfriend going "Lorena Bobbitt" on him. Nearly eighty years later, "hot chicken" is a favorite among Nashvillians that I experienced firsthand as opposed to a bastardized version from a Memphis beer parlor.
In planning for my visit, I studied the menu for potential meals that fit my budget. After looking it over, I decided to get the "Large Dark" plate that the restaurant's website describes as "2 THIGHS & LEG." However, the plate that I got was two huge quarter pieces of dark meat with sides of collard greens and macaroni & cheese. Seeing this was intimidating, for it was more than I wanted. So without a wing (or rather "leg") man, I undertook the enormous challenge.


The "hot chicken" at Hattie B's was quite different from what I had earlier. Unlike Yazoo's version, Hattie B's chicken was drenching in hot sauce. It was so excessive that I probably used half of a roll of paper towels just to stay neat. Compared to most hot wing joints, Hattie B's is very liberal when it comes to the sauce. If this is custom for "hot chicken," I'll bring wet naps whenever I decide to do this again.
I was also surprised by the amount of breading used to cook the chicken. Along with Church's and a few other places, Hattie B's use of breading is far more than I'm accustomed to. Combined with the hot sauce, the breading could have been a meal on its own.
In terms of taste, the aroma of the chicken (atop white bread and capped with pickles, which is traditional for this dish) was very strong. Probably the result of a lot of cayenne seasoning, the taste hit my senses like a hammer. With "hot" being the operative word, the chicken lived up to its namesake. Compared to Yazoo's presentation, Hattie B's made a better impression for it was very spicy, tasty and satisfying. By the way, the chicken wasn't a version of hot wings that most are familiar with. The chicken's spiciness had a bitter, harder edge than most wing sauces (maybe it lacks vinegar). I can't identify all the ingredients in the chicken, but it is distinctive from the average "hot wing." For me, the particulars didn't matter as long as it was good, which was what I felt about it.
The side items were decent by most standards. The collard greens (called "Southern Greens" by the restaurant) tasted about the same as most Soul Food and Southern restaurants. The pimento mac & cheese was thick and very creamy, which are qualities that most will appreciate. Both side items went well with the spicy "hot chicken."
You might find this hard to believe, but the best thing that I had at Hattie B's is something that the restaurant doesn't make. In fact, it was something that I didn't plan on getting. However, because of Nashville's growing reputation for craft beers, decided that it was worth looking into. Instead of water, I got a Boro Blonde from Murfreesboro-based Mayday Brewery. The blonde ale has, according to the brewery's website, "a light citrus aroma with a touch of fruit (thanks to the Glacier and Crystal hops with a twist of New Zealand hops)." My take on it is that the citrusy and slightly hoppy flavors are well balanced, making for a very delicious beer that I hope to see in Memphis soon. I want to thank the woman who took my order for recommending this beer, for its slightly sweet flavor is a perfect match for Hattie B's "hot chicken."

SIDE NOTE: I'm sure some of my Facebook "friends" are wondering why I'm reviewing something that I swore to give up. Since my pledge to stop excessive drinking, I've decided it was better to address the issues driving the behavior rather than the act itself. In dealing with personal issues, I believe that I've gotten to a better place in life that will allow me to responsibly enjoy one of my favorite passions. It took the risk of losing good friends (including a special one) to make me get my act together, but I'm finally coming around. Nothing, including a very good blonde ale, is worth jeopardizing friendships over.

To sum it up, my experience at Hattie B's was very nice. The "hot chicken" lived up to its reputation for spiciness and was very good. However, it will never take the place of traditional fried chicken that I'm accustomed to. With a West Tennessee bias, I will always prefer chicken from places like Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken (which has a restaurant in Nashville) that is spicy (but not to the degree of "hot chicken") without the messiness of sauce. That said, I wouldn't mind having "hot chicken" occasionally, especially if I'm drinking an excellent beer with it. Although it won't inspire me to write a rap song, it will have me singing its praises.

Websites:
    Hattie B's Hot Chicken: www.HattieB.com
    Mayday Brewery: MaydayBrewery.com

Hattie B's Hot Chicken on Urbanspoon

LabelsBeer, Commentary, Fried Chicken, Nashville, Soul Food, Southern



Follow Ken's Food Find
Reactions:

0 comments:

Post a Comment